Roger Attfield, along with Harry Giddings Jr., has won Canada’s premier classic, the Queen’s Plate, a remarkable eight times. Last year he attempted to enter the record books with Danish Dynaformer, a homebred colt from the last crop of Dynaformer for client Charles Fipke. This year, he will try again with Shakhimat, a colt from the first North American crop of leading Australian sire and one-time Darley shuttler Lonhro.
Owned by Irish-Canadian horseman Richard Hogan and Dan Gale, Canadian-bred Shakhimat won the G3 Transylvania at 8.5F on turf at Keeneland on opening day Friday by three and a-quarter lengths, leading throughout, and it was an impressive performance on many counts for a horse racing outside of Canada and facing open Graded company for the first time. For one, Shakhimat, who hasn’t raced on Lasix, last ran on November 8 at Woodbine, and he was expertly brought back to the races by Attfield from a winter break at Payson Park in Florida off a string of works on dirt and turf — two surfaces on which the colt had never won.
Last year, Shakhimat had debuted in September on Woodbine’s all-weather in a 7F maiden special, which he’d won on the front end, too, but then ran a well-beaten third next out in the restricted Cup and Saucer Stakes at 9F on turf in October. Attfield had been tempted to put the colt away for the year after that but decided to run him once more back on the all-weather, in the restricted Coronation Futurity. Shakhimat responded with a nine and three-quarter-length laugher, and Attfield had his Queen’s Plate horse — the winterbook favorite for the race.
Shakhimat’s pedigree should be ideally suited for the 10F of the Canadian classic. Bred by Frank Stronach’s Adena Springs, Shakhimat is from the Touch Gold mare Reggae Rose, a Stronach homebred who won three of six starts, all at Woodbine and all on the all-weather at 8.5F. The next dam, Reggae Queen, was also bred by Adena Springs, and she was sired by Dynaformer, a very distinct influence for stamina on turf and a favorite of wealthy owner-breeders for this reason. At the moment, for example, Adena Springs happens to stand the Phipps-bred Dynaformer Point of Entry, a G1 winner on turf at up to 12F; Fipke will eventually stand Danish Dynaformer, who won the 12F Breeders’ Stakes on turf — the third race in the Canadian Triple Crown; and Brad Kelley’s Calumet has 3200-meter (~ 2 miles) G1 Melbourne Cup winner Americain, also a turf horse.
Back to Shakhimat, his Dynaformer 2nd dam Reggae Queen won her only race from three starts at 8.5F on turf at Del Mar, and she produced the Adena Springs-bred gelding Celtic New Year (by North Light), who won the G2 Del Mar Handicap at 11F on turf and was also a close third in the G2 San Juan Capistrano at 14F on turf. The 3rd dam, Valid Victress (by Valid Appeal), produced the Adena Springs homebred Perfect Sting (by Red Ransom), a champion turf mare, Breeders’ Cup winner, and the earner of $2.2 million .
Stronach, who started off the Irish-bred Sadler’s Wells horse El Prado in this country, has a penchant for foreign bloodlines and race records, too. Adena Springs has stood the Irish-bred Danehill Epsom Derby winner North Light, for example, as well as a Japanese-bred son of Sunday Silence and a Brazlian-bred son of Spend a Buck, to name a few off the beaten path, and it’s not at all surprsing that Stronach patronized Lonhro, a well-raced Australian G1 winner who has a record of 26 firsts from 35 starts from 2 to 5, including Group races from 1100 meters (~ 5.5F) to 2000 meters (~ 10F) on turf. So, long story short, Shakhimat’s pedigree is loaded with turf and stamina — and some ruggedness from the sire, too.
Shakhimat was offered at the Keeneland September sale by Adena Springs but was an $80,000 RNA. He was then re-offered at the 2015 Fasig-Tipton February sale, which had moved venues to Stronach’s Gulfstream and was supported extensively by an Adena Springs draft that was notable for its 2-year-olds not breezing under tack. Instead, they were galloped — some 40-odd head — while the stars of the sale, horses like Mor Spirit and Zulu and Nyquist, breezed in quick times and made big bucks.
Hogan was there, and the dark bay caught his eye, not so much for his conformation and the way he galloped but for his presence. “He has a great head on him, and width between his eyes, and a presence like, ‘I am the Man,'” Hogan said Friday. “I’d like to tell you about conformation and balance and all that, but that’s what struck me the most about him. He did travel nice at a gallop but presence and attitude and nerve was what got me.”
Hogan ended up getting the Lonhro colt for a bargain at $60,000. “If he had worked at that sale, I would not have been able to buy him,” Hogan said.
And the name?
“I was chatting with my brother in Ireland and asked him to come up with a name, and he happened to land on checkmate,” Hogan said. “I said that would be taken and Googled it and it came up as Shakhimat in Russian.”
And that just might be a harbinger for Attfield in the Queen’s Plate.